John and Mindy Clark

*Mindy Starns Clark* is the award-winning author of 19 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including the #1 bestseller /The Amish Midwife /(co-written with Leslie Gould) and the ever-popular /The House That Cleans Itself/. *John Campbell Clark*is an attorney and CPA who works in the Christian nonprofit field. Married to Mindy for 23 years, he has served as her brainstorming partner, research facilitator, and first reader for each of her books. A lifelong /Titanic/ buff, he coauthored with her on /Echoes of Titanic/. John and Mindy have two daughters, both currently in college, and live near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

For Writers Only

Collaborating While Cohabitating: A Survivor’s Guide

How can you write a book with your spouse and not end up in divorce court? My husband, John, and I are often asked that question now that our first cowritten novel, Echoes of Titanic, has finally been released. Most folks might rank such an endeavor right up there with getting joint root canals, but I’m here to say that not only can a marriage survive the writing of a novel, it can downright thrive from it. It just takes some ground rules, lots of love, and maybe a freak snowstorm.

More on that snowstorm in a bit.

I should start by explaining our particular situation. Echoes of Titanic is my eighteenth published book; it is my husband’s first. I’m a full-time writer; he’s a CPA and an attorney who works in the Christian nonprofit field. Our collaborating on a novel was a combination of the right people on the right project at the right time.

Though not a writer himself, John has amazing skills in story crafting, brainstorming, problem solving, pacing, and more. Must be the lawyer side of his brain at work. He’s always been a tremendous help to me with each of my books, so much so that I’ve sometimes felt like his name should be on the cover next to mine.When my publisher approached me about doing a Titanic-related novel, I knew the time had come for John to be not just my helper but my coauthor. Because he has been a lifelong Titanic buff, his full involvement would be integral to the success of this project.

Of course, the journey from that initial impulse to a completed work was filled with joys and challenges. But coauthoring with my husband ended up being a wonderful experience, one that allowed me to view the writing process with new eyes and taught me some valuable lessons about writing—and relationships. In that light, for anyone else who might be considering the same sort of project, I present here John and Mindy’s Eight Rules of Collaboration.

1. Separate Work from Life. Given the life that most writers lead—working from home, setting their own schedules, staying mentally connected with the project even during “off” hours—it’s often difficult to establish the necessary boundaries between work time and leisure time. Throw in a spouse who’s also a writer, and you’ve got two people in the same household facing the same challenge, which makes it twice as difficult. That’s why it’s vitally important that you never allow your coauthoring project to become all-consuming. Even if it’s the most fun you’ve ever had, be sure take time for work, then put that aside and take time for other things.

2. In matters of ego versus story, story wins. I learned this lesson from my first coauthor, Leslie Gould, who likes to say, “It’s all about the story.” Opinions will differ between even the most harmoneous of coauthors, and frustrations inevitably crop up during any book-writing process. But if differing opinions are always settled with an eye toward what’s best for the book, rather than what’s best for the person, then everyone wins in the end.

With a spouse, especially if you’ve raised children together, this shouldn’t be all that hard to do. Applying that mentality to the book-writing process as well, it’s easier to toss all matters of ego out the window and ask yourself, What’s best for the book? Then do that.

3. Accept that passionate debate is good for a book—as long as it begins and ends there. It’s a common belief that spouses simply can’t coauthor without hurting the marriage in the process. I’ve never shared that belief, and I was so determined to prove it wrong that I entered into this project with the intention of never arguing at all. What I didn’t realize, however, was that there’s a difference between arguing and debating—and that there’s nothing wrong with passionate debate when cowriting a book.

With Echoes of Titanic, however, we discussed and debated so many elements along the way that by the end, our first draft was more like a final draft. The story was strong because we’d had to fight for it every step of the way. The key was in not allowing those fights to follow us to the dinner table or the bedroom or anywhere else once the work day was done.

4. Early on, designate who has the final say in what. Throughout the book-writing process, John deferred to me for most writing-related decisions, such as how to show rather than tell or when to reveal and when to hold back. These are techiniques I have been honing for many years.

In turn, I deferred to him for most story-related decisions, such as where the characters went and what they did and said, and why. Not only is he especially gifted at plotting, but the storyline for this book was his baby.

Designating who’s the boss of what—and making sure the division is fairly equal—shows respect for each other’s strengths and makes use of their best skills and knowledge. It can also go a long way in helping to keep the peace.

5. Prepare for your loved ones, even the dog, to feel ignored. John and I have always “tag-teamed” through life, picking up each other’s slack whenever one of us faces something that requires extra attention. When I’m on a book deadline, he can be found doing more than his share of housekeeping and kid tending. I do the same in return when he’s dealing with some big project or issue at the office. Thankfully we didn’t try to cowrite while our two daughters were still living at home!

Beyond the unmopped floors, the empty fridge, and the unreturned phone calls, someone did pay the price for our neglegence: our dog Belle, who got so tired of being ignored that she finally starting laying herself across my computer keyboard and whimpering until I gave her some undivided attention. Once we added dog-walking story conferences into our day, we solved that problem.

6. Bathe the project in prayer, beginning to end. Prayer is always an important part of marriage, but we found it to be especially so during the cowriting process. Praying over this book helped us to keep our priorities straight and our perspectives in line. Seeking God’s direction for our story made the process much smoother, and the core themes and spiritual truths we wanted to convey with our tale became much more evident as we surrendered our efforts to His will.

7. Give each other lots of affection and affirmation. Writing is an emotional process; only by tapping into our deepest feelings can we show truth on the page. The rejection and exposure of being a published author brings in even more vulnerability.

When just one spouse experiences these things, the other can show a little extra tender love and care as needed. But when both spouses are going through the same things at the same time, who’s left to do the comforting?

8. Take time to play. Who had time to play? We had a book due, much of it still to be written, and a clock that wouldn’t stop ticking.

Then came the freak snowstorm of October 2011. We were at our house up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania when the snow started falling. We kept on working, but once a foot and a half of white stuff piled up outside, the power flickered and then all was lost. Short of pencil and paper, the modern writer can’t do much once the laptop battery dies.

So we went outside. For the first time in days, we simply played. We laughed, we made snowmen, and in a wonderful burst of inspiration, we even staged a fabulous Titanic-related photo, as shown.

When the lights came back on and we got back to work, we found that the brief break had done wonders—for our physical well-being, of course, but also for our morale and our creativity! Thank goodness this lesson was forced upon us: Take time to play. You and your book will be better for it.

In a way, writing this novel together was kind of like having a baby. The process took about nine months, and after much anticipation—not to mention a little anxiety—we finally held the new arrival in our hands. Gazing at it lovingly, we marveled at God’s faithfulness and the ways we had grown together as a couple during the process. Sadly, however, just as with our real children, as much as we loved this book and the time we’d been given with it, the point had come to send it out into the world. We had to set it free. What happened to it next was no longer under our control.

What’s a parent to do? We began buy consoling ourselves with the knowledge that we have a pretty good track record. Our two daughters, both in college now, have grown into amazing young women. If our book does just one-hundredth as well, it’ll be a huge hit. Thus, as we have done with our kids, we’ve had to say of this novel, “We did our best and trust God with the rest.”

Divorce court? No way! Writing with my spouse was one of the most exciting, rewarding, and challenging things I’ve ever done. It was so rewarding, in fact, that we’ve already decided that once we get our home back in shape and our dog sufficently loved, we just might be ready to do it all over again.


Echoes of Titanic